Raising two small children and starting a business simultaneously can seem to many like a recipe for disaster. But Aditi has managed to find the right balance with her gourmet spreads and sauces brand Posh Nosh.
A juggler—that is how Aditi Mammen Gupta describes herself these days. This is an apt descriptor for the food entrepreneur who is also a mother to two sons—a three-year-old and a two-month-old.
Many mothers who are also entrepreneurs know that there is no maternity leave when you are a founder. Aditi, who runs gourmet sauces and spreads brand Posh Nosh, was responding to work emails when she got back home from hospital after delivering her second son and she was back on the factory floor a month later. When asked whether it gets frustrating when questions about how she manages startup and motherhood are posed, she says:
Actually, I am glad that people recognise that it is a task to manage children and work. It is not easy. Only because I have family nearby who are ready to babysit whenever I need them to that I am able to do the juggling. But I won’t have it any other way."
Entrepreneurship runs in Aditi’s blood. She comes from the illustrious Mammen family, which runs businesses like Malayala Manorama, MRF and Funskool. She could have gotten into the family business—in fact, she worked with Funskool for sometime—but Aditi wanted to start something on her own.
Like it is for many entrepreneurs, Aditi too knew she wanted to start up but wasn’t sure about what she wanted to do. She realised the one thing she was truly passionate about was food. Since she had travelled extensively and studied abroad in England she had been exposed to many different varieties of foods.
It was while hunting for a chocolate fudge sauce in Chennai, where she lives, that she came up with the idea of her startup, Posh Nosh. The jarred food products she found on shop shelves in India were of a much lower quality than what she found abroad, and Aditi realised she had found her niche.
In 2013, Aditi began working on the recipes. She took the help of a food consultant to get started but whipped up hundreds of batches of sauces on her own in her kitchen.
The first products she developed were a result of simply not being able to find what she wanted for her kitchen in the market. She launched in 2014 with four products—the chocolate fudge sauce, caramel sauce, a vegetarian mayonnaise that tastes like the original non-vegetarian kind, and roasted garlic cloves in a jar.
With food habits changing in India, the market is exploding. The Indian food market was worth $193 billion in 2016 and is predicted to cross $540 billion in 2020. A number of foodpreneurs like Aditi have launched brands in recent years to make use of this growing market. Many are finding that the challenges start once the product is ready.
Aditi says the procurement of ingredients wasn’t an issue. “There were hiccups on the way but once I found the right supplier it was quite smooth. Most of my ingredients come from one supplier,” says Aditi, 32.
Distribution was, however, a different matter. In Chennai, she found it easy as most stores she approached, including chain stores like Nuts n Spices, were willing to give her shelf space and she quickly grew store count to 45 in the city. It was when she expanded beyond Chennai that she encountered issues.
In Bengaluru and Mumbai, she came across steep listing fees and other challenges. "I didn’t have a sales team. I had sent a big batch of bottles for a Bengaluru store, had paid listing fee and had even paid extra for some special displays. But when my team member went to the store on a visit to the city, he could not find any of my products on the shelf,” says Aditi. The store manager told her that the sales people of established brands come to the stores daily and ensure they get prime shelf space. She realised without a sales team she was at a disadvantage.
While she now has three sales staff, she has scaled back operations and now focuses only on Chennai, Puducherry, Kerala and Bengaluru.
The company also sells online, primarily through Amazon, Place of Origin and BigBasket. Here, Posh Nosh’s beautifully designed glass jars became an issue.
Aditi decided to use glass as plastic is not environmentally friendly and food packed in plastic jars can get spoiled quickly. This is particularly important for Posh Nosh, as no artificial preservatives are used. But the glass jars are heavy and online sites start charging delivery fees beyond a certain weight. Her products are priced at Rs 149 to Rs 199 a bottle, depending on the product. A delivery charge of Rs 90 for a jar makes the cost shoot up for the customer and the company at this stage cannot absorb the charge.
Aditi has now gone back to the drawing board to create lighter glass jars. “At the moment online accounts for only about a tenth of the sales because of the weight issue,” says Aditi.
With a three-year-old son and a new born boy, born in January, Aditi also realised that she would not be able to go full-throttle on expansion. This is a challenge many working mothers with small kids face—balancing ambition with reality.
“This is why I scaled back in Mumbai. I realised it is better not to expand offline in areas I cannot be physically present in. That’s why I am focusing on what I can do from my office and production unit here,” says Aditi.
She is now focusing on expanding her product range—more sauces and complementary foods—and is also working on improving packaging, increasing per store sales, expanding sales online and improving the brand’s social media effectiveness.
The brand is now at a volume level of 2,500 units a month, while the production unit has a capacity of 10,000. She employs a team of four women in her production unit, apart from the sales team of three and support staff like accountants. She is targeting to double volumes this year and increase the contribution of online sales.
Women entrepreneurs have to keep proving, unfortunately, that they have big aspirations and are serious about their business, especially when they have small children to take care of. Aditi is aware of such doubts. She says it is a matter of balancing her own expectations. “I would like to scale up the venture much faster. But I have to be realistic. I want to be a hands-on mom too,” says Aditi.
At a time when startups and founders are celebrated for the millions of dollars they raise and for rapid growth of topline, taking a call to grow slowly is especially daunting.
Aditi says while that’s the right call to take right now, it does not mean she is not ambitious. She says:
I have huge aspirations and plans. I know the quality of my products are amazing and there is a need in the market. This can become big.”